A forum held on the 3rd and 4th of April at the Pacific Community (SPC) offices in Fiji has resulted in agreement on future steps to formalise a regionwide platform that supports the development and trade of Pacific’s “Tree of Life” – the coconut.
Pacific communities have coconuts embedded in their culture, with many dependent on them for their livelihoods. There are an estimated 73 million coconut palms in the region producing 3.5 billion nuts annually that help sustain smallholder communities.
To retain their cultural significance and benefit from the global demand for coconut products, Pacific countries and territories need improved, efficient and effective resource management. Limitations to the coconut industry include the impacts of climate change, low production of senile palms and a growing threat from pests and diseases, including the coconut rhinoceros beetle, which the Pacific Community is working to eliminate through its PARC (Pacific Awareness and Response to the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle) project.
The forum, attended by government representatives, private industry representatives and Pacific Community experts, confirmed that almost all Pacific countries and territories have coconut in their agriculture plans with some counties having separate plans focusing on the coconut sector. The Pacific coconut industry currently does not have a regional body that provides a vision and strategy for sector advancement and the forum agreed on the need for a regional coconut platform that will increase coconut research and development.
Though the number of coconut products, such as coconut condensed milk, coconut flour and coconut geotextiles, is increasing in the worldwide market, Pacific producers mainly make low-value products such as copra. The coconut market was valued at USD 11.5 billion in 2018 and is projected to increase to USD 31.1 billion by 2026.
Several steps to get the coconut platform off the ground were agreed upon during the two-day consultations. A task force of industry representatives, experts and civil society organisations will be formed to address coconut industry issues voiced by farmers, businesses and governments. The platform will tackle coconut challenges in the Pacific and connect to other relevant bodies, such as the International Coconut Community.
Based on the deliberations, a concept note for a Pacific coconut platform will be drafted and sent to relevant government bodies in the region for consideration. Challenges ahead of the platform include funding, taking recent research and turning it into policy and action, and the logistics of building knowledge, capacity and consensus across the huge Pacific region with its built-in travel and meeting difficulties.
Moving forward, the coconut forum agreed to continue with additional consultations with countries that to date have not been able to attend the gatherings as it moves into its next phase of building the regional platform. Once the consultations have been completed, the coconut platform concept note will be disseminated for country review.